Jan 7, 2020

“What are your pronouns, please?” should be one of the first things you ask a person, right after “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?”

It’s important because a person’s pronouns—or how they identify themselves—don’t necessarily correlate to how they present themselves. Don’t assume anyone’s gender because of how they look. Newsflash: Being feminine or masculine doesn’t automatically make a person she or he. I’m so, so feminine it hurts, but I identify as non-binary, and I use they/them pronouns. 

The practice of announcing your pronouns is something that’s only been normalized in the past decade, thanks to the advent of the internet and the safe spaces it harbors. And with this also came the rise of the singular “they,” both as a genderqueer identifier and as a “gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person.” The latter is used the same way we use “siya” in Filipino, an all-encompassing pronoun used in everyday language that doesn’t betray the gender of the person you’re talking about. 

[READ: Geena Rocero reminds us at the UN (no less) of our language’s inherent gender neutrality]

Making a gendered language like English accommodate gender neutrality and normalizing it is a powerful thing. So powerful that the American Dialect Society (ADS) recently chose to name the singular “they” as the word of the decade. On Jan. 4, US linguists convened to choose both the word that defined 2019 and the 2010s as a whole. The Guardian quotes lexicographer, linguist, and ADS new words committee chair Ben Zimmer saying, “People want to choose something that stands the test of time and sums up the decade as a whole.” Aside from “they,” “my pronouns” was announced the word of the year. 

The choice of “they” is particularly poignant: At the dawn of the 2000s, the group chose “she” as the word of the second millennium.

Since 1990, the American Dialect Society (which itself started in 1889) and its sister groups have been convening to choose the word of the past year with a show of hands vote, predating other word of the year-selecting bodies like the Oxford Press. The recent vote isn’t the first time the linguistic body chose to put a spotlight on “they”: It was its 2015 word of the year. And Time Magazine wrote about this decision:

“It, like so many things in 2015, was about gender identity and self-determination. This version of they is the one that a person, transgender or cisgender, can use when they don’t feel like he or she fits quite right. This version of they is the one a person might use to refer to everyone they know just to jolt people into second-guessing some of the assumptions society has long had about gender—about all hims and all hers, about what destiny is really in store for any baby who is proclaimed to be a boy or a girl in the delivery room.”


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TAGS: american dialect society gender identity gender neutral nolisoli.ph nonbinary